Home Leadership What the 2016 Presidential Campaign Can Teach Leaders About Resilience

What the 2016 Presidential Campaign Can Teach Leaders About Resilience

by Guest Writter
Doug Hensch, President, DRH Group 

Both the Democratic and Republican candidates for President of the United States have “unfavorable” ratings by the general public that have never been seen before. Attack ads are the norm and the personal insults thrown by each side get louder, every day. The American public is getting weary of all this negativity and it’s sapping our resilience while pushing us further apart as a society.

The good news is that business leaders have a lot to learn from what we’re all witnessing. The following is a close look at the election and what you can learn from it to make your team more, more engaged and capable in the face of adversity.

One of the biggest drains on our resilience can be the lack of flexibility in our thinking. Many political experts argue that most elections follow a simple model where 40% of the electorate is voting for the Republican candidate (no matter what), 40% is voting for the Democratic candidate (no matter what) and the remaining 20% is up for grabs. Think about that for a second, almost 80% of Americans make up their minds before even knowing who the candidate for their party will be in the election. They watch Fox News or MSNBC and they are overwhelmed by information that simply supports how they already feel.

Psychologists refer to this as the “confirmation bias” where we seek and interpret new evidence that corroborates existing beliefs or theories. This is dangerous territory for businesses. When employees ignore evidence because they don’t like it, they put the organization at risk for (among other things) lower levels of trust, higher levels of interpersonal conflict and decreased financial performance.

What can you do about it? Share your biases with your team and tell them you are a work in progress. Recently, the white CEO of AT&T (Randall Stephenson) gave an incredibly eloquent speech praising the Black Lives Matter movement. He admitted his previous ignorance and asked his employees to have deeper discussions on the topic versus avoiding it altogether. The courage and genuine humility demonstrated by Stephenson is sure to become a trademark of his leadership legacy.

I facilitate corporate training workshops with groups as small as ten employees and as large as 400. When asked, “How many of you would like to see a ban of some sort on negative campaign advertising?” I usually see close to 100% of the hands shoot into the air. My response, “Just get used to it.” Negative advertising works wonders for political campaigns because negative emotions move people to act…in the short term.

Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock Funds, wrote a letter to the chief executives at a number of the S&P 500 companies encouraging them to abandon their “short-termism” with a focus on quarterly results. Instead, Fink says that a focus on long-term outcomes serves all stakeholders more effectively.

To capitalize on Fink’s advice, one would be wise to consider adding a bit of optimism and positivity to his/her leadership toolkit. Sharing a long-term strategic plan with a realistic optimism allows employees to see where you are taking them. Helping employees visualize a better future gives them hope and increases motivation.

And, consider researcher Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory. The first part of the theory tells us how positive emotions can broaden our attention and the scope of our cognition. Her studies show that when people experience positive emotions they may be better at thinking strategically, they feel they have more options for acting and they tend to be more inclusive. The ‘build’ part of the theory is where we see action. Positive emotions can help with everything from sleep quality, to a boost in the immune system, to higher levels of creativity. Fredrickson has referred to positive emotions as the “seeds” of resilience. I’m not advocating a company-wide group hug. I am, however, asking business leaders to think carefully about the level of optimism and positivity they bring with every interaction.

“I alone can fix it,” declared Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention in July while Hillary Clinton stumbled through several interviews related to her personal email server. Both of these incidents offer powerful lessons for a key ingredient to resilient people and resilient organizations: connection. Our culture may promote the idea the Marlboro Man is tough and resilient but the research would say otherwise. Close, supportive, trusting relationships are absolutely essential to our well being.

Imagine (just for a second) if Trump were able to call upon just a small amount of humility to say that he would be meeting with experts in various domains. Wouldn’t we give him more of a chance to solve some of our more important issues? Now, imagine Clinton talking about the email issue and stating, “I made a mistake. It was my mistake. I learned from it and I am sorry that it happened.” The issue may not have faded, immediately, but it certainly would have taken some of the wind out of her detractors’ sails.

In the end, any team, company or organization’s success and resilience comes down to relationships. Resilience is a multi-faceted construct and how to create a resilient culture is not always self-evident. And, leaders who demonstrate flexibility, a realistic optimism and some level of positivity are more likely to create organizations that can adapt, change and lead.

[Image courtesy: DonkeyHotey]

About the Author

Doug Hensch is an ICF (International Coaching Federation) credentialed coach, consultant, and corporate trainer and President of DRH Group. He is the author of POSITIVELY RESILIENT: 5 ½ Secrets to Beat Stress, Overcome Obstacles, and Defeat Anxiety (Career Press, Oct 2016).

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